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One Democrat, from a deep-red state smaller than Idaho or Nebraska, has attracted attention from across the country for his bold moves in an increasingly divisive political landscape. He has been blasted by members of his own party and praised by his opposition. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has suddenly emerged as a key player in U.S. politics. The senator, a moderate from West Virginia, has proved himself as a strong and capable leader willing to put country before party. With the next presidential election approaching rapidly, Manchin is the perfect embodiment of the leader America needs in the White House. 

Manchin has had a lengthy political career. He first served in West Virginia’s House of Delegates starting in 1982, before moving onto the State Senate and eventually securing the posts of secretary of state and governor. He then ran for U.S. Senate in 2010, where he has represented West Virginians ever since. 

A centrist, Manchin has played a key role in Senate negotiations throughout his tenure, often voting with Republicans. That oppositional posture has only become more pronounced since President Joe Biden took office at the beginning of this year. Manchin has wielded unprecedented influence over Biden’s agenda in the evenly split 50-50 Senate, where one vote makes all of the difference on many bills. His unique position has earned him the title of “most powerful man in Washington.” 

After months of negotiations, Manchin lived up to that title when he unilaterally sank Biden’s $1.75 trillion Build Back Better social spending bill in dramatic fashion, a core piece of the president’s agenda. Manchin’s announcement in December that he would be voting “no” on the Build Back Better bill was quickly met with a storm of criticism from fellow Democrats. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki accused the senator of reversing his position on the bill, stating the politician’s comments were “at odds with his discussions this week with the President, with White House staff, and with his own public utterances.” Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said Manchin did not “have the courage to do the right thing for the working families of West Virginia and America,” daring him to vote against the package on the Senate floor. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., said Manchin “has never negotiated in good faith” and was “obstructing the president’s agenda.” 

Undoubtedly, Manchin’s sudden announcement after months of progress on the bill — the price tag of which Democrats cut by half to appease Manchin and fellow moderates — was a shock to the political world. On the other side of the aisle, Republicans praised the senator’s move, with speculation mounting that Manchin was even considering flipping his affiliation to the Republican Party. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Republicans “would love to have him on our team.”

Essentially, to many Democrats and other staunch supporters of the Build Back Better bill — which promised over half a trillion dollars to combat climate change, $400 billion for universal pre-K education along with hundreds of billions for child tax credits, paid leave and Medicaid expansion — it appears Manchin is now seen as the ultimate political enemy. Meanwhile, Republicans see him as a hero who stopped a pivotal piece of Biden’s agenda in its tracks, dealing a serious blow to the president’s political fortunes. 

It would be a mistake to assess Manchin’s behavior in these superficial political terms. The apparent death of Build Back Better may be a short-term loss for Democrats and a win for Republicans, but let’s instead shift our focus to how it would impact the country. Millions of Americans would have benefited from some aspects of this unprecedented spending package, but the Build Back Better Act had obvious, overwhelming drawbacks. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) found the true cost of the bill was far greater than Democrats had advertised. If passed, this legislation would have contributed to our nation’s massive $29.6 trillion debt, which has swelled during the COVID-19 pandemic. The CBO determined the national debt would have soared by a staggering $3 trillion if the programs in the bill continued for 10 years, a likely scenario in this age of deficit spending. 

This package would have presented an unacceptable risk as our nation contends with historic levels of inflation, new uncertainty surrounding the omicron variant and tensions with American adversaries like Russia and China. Manchin wrote his “Democratic colleagues in Washington are determined to dramatically reshape our society in a way that leaves our country even more vulnerable to the threats we face.” While it’s critical we help workers, parents, students and patients through social spending, it needs to be done in a far more responsible fashion.

At the end of the day, if every politician were like Manchin, the Build Back Better bill never would have received the level of support it did. But most aren’t these days. The vast majority of our elected leaders would rather score political points by passing this bill rather than acknowledge the economic and political risks that it entails. For once, a politician transcended politics and put the needs of the country first, something Democrats and Republicans alike often cannot muster the courage to do. Every American — even the staunchest supporters of Build Back Better — should praise Manchin’s willingness to take a true risk and do what he earnestly believes is right for his constituents and the country.

Sen. Manchin — someone who puts Americans first and politics second — is the leader we all need in these turbulent times. We should all hope Manchin seizes the opportunity and mounts a run for the White House in 2024. Less than a year into the Biden administration, it’s become clear the current president — whose approval rating stands at a historic low — has failed to solve multiple crises, from Afghanistan to COVID-19. On the Republican side, things don’t look much better. If former President Donald Trump enters the race for a second term, which appears increasingly likely, qualified Republican candidates may pass on a run for the Oval Office.

Manchin should seriously consider making a bid for the White House. If he does, every American should turn out and vote for a leader who will put the nation first at every turn.

Evan Stern is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at erstern@umich.edu.